Disneyland turns 57 today! Happy Birthday to the ORIGINAL Magic Kingdom...
It is the place where ALL of the magic began. Where Walt Disney was able to see his dreams of a magical little park come true. It served as the inspiration for other dreams (such as Walt Disney World, and the international parks in Japan, France, Hong Kong and soon to be in mainland China).
As Walt Disney said on July 17, 1955 when dedicating his
brand-new theme park, what's come to be known as the "granddaddy of them
"To all who come to this happy place: Welcome.
Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past; and here
youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is
dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts which have created
America; with the hope that it will be a source of joy, and inspiration to all
Walt Disney's dedication speech, inscribed on a plaque in
Town Square, Main Street, USA
Disneyland began as a dream - a dream of a DAD, wishing for
a place that he could have fun WITH his daughters, instead of just sitting on a
bench WATCHING them have fun on the merry-go-round. A family park, where
parents and children could have fun together. So what IS Disneyland? I like
this description, found inside the first few pages of a commemorative book sold
back in 1985, DISNEYLAND: THE FIRST THIRTY YEARS ( copyright Walt Disney
Productions, MCMLXXXV) - this next section are not my words, but the book's
words - but I think they describe Disneyland perfectly... and have been so much
a part of why I love Disneyland as much as I do since I first read them back in
1985 when I first bought the book. For me, it just encapsulates so well what I
think and feel of that magical place in Anaheim, California... and remember
that this was written 26 years ago, so the time and visitor counts mentioned
are much, much higher in 2011 than they were in 1985...
"What is Disneyland? For almost a third of a century,
more than 240 million guests from nearly every nation have visited Walt
Disney's Magic Kingdom to find out for themselves. But Disneyland offers no
definitive answer, because no two people leave the Magic Kingdom with exactly
the same memories, experiences or impressions.
Disneyland is a kaleidoscope of unique entertainment forms.
It represents the intangibles of the mind, yet exhibits a logical, physical
world. Within its thematic realms are medieval castles and rocket ships,
horse-drawn streetcars and streamlined monorail trains, jungle elephants and
elephants that fly, a snow-capped mountain and a "space" mountain.
Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A. brings to life the spirit
of America at the turn of the 20th Century, while Tomorrowland looks ahead to
the turn of the 21st. America's heritage is found in rugged Frontierland and
Bear Country, and in the grace and charm of New Orleans Square. The sleeping
dreams of childhood are awakened within the courtyard of Fantasyland's
fairtytale castle. Within the dense tropical jungles of Adventureland, dreams
of far-off, exotic places come to life.
Disneyland is the innocence of youth and the wisdom of age.
A child examines the hitching posts that line an 1890 street and asks,
"Mommy, what kind of parking meters are these?" An elderly gentleman
on the same street smiles h
appily and tells a bystander what he likes best
about Disneyland - "I can jaywalk here"! A young man aboard a
"Mississippi" sternwheeler on a moonlit night seeks an introduction
to a girl by asking, "Is this your first trip abroad?"
Disneyland is a place where people forget their everyday
cares and immerse themselves in lands of fantasy and adventure, yesterday and
tomorrow. You find the magic of Disneyland in the soft pastel lighting on
Sleeping Beauty Castle as evening approaches, in the dancing eyes of a
grandfather wearing an orange-billed Donald Duck hat, and in a child kissing
Mickey Mouse while Dad fumbles with the camera.
Disneyland is the emotion that wells up within you when the
Mark Twain sternwheeler churs 'round the bend, twinkling with pin lights from
stern to stern, while nearby a Dixieland band blasts out "When the Saints
Go Marching In". It is the pride you feel when the band renders the
"Star Spangled Banner" at the Main Street Retreat Ceremony each
evening, as a flock of white doves encircles Town Square.
But to describe the real meaning of Disneyland
is to unfold its story from the very beginning - from the time when it was
merely a twinkle in the eye of its creator, Walt Disney, "Showman of the
Disneyland was Walt's dream. It was the next logical step
in quality storytelling for the creative genius that he was. It was an
opportunity to create something that could be that "family park"
where parents and children could have fun together - but do so in such a unique
and artistic way that really could envelope those family members in the stories
and environments that Walt felt the park should have. He turned to his own team
of artists to help bring the magic to life. His filmmakers really are the ones
who helped create the environments and atmospheres that you see in Disneyland
(and later on at Walt Disney World and the other Disney theme parks around the
globe). The entire design for Disneyland was simply a form of storytelling. The
audience of a movie simply sat and enjoyed the picture in front of them - but
at Disneyland, the audience became participants "in" the action
playing out all around them.
From the very first steps inside the turnstiles, the
guest is transported inside this living, 3D "film" playing out before
them. The red concrete between the turnstiles and the Mickey floral planter in
front of them, leading to the left or right and the tunnels going under the
railroad tracks are the "lobby" of this theatre. The tunnels are the
entrance portals into the story playing out within the "theatre" that
is the park itself. Once inside, the enjoyment truly begins as the stories
begin to unfold all around the guests. An earthen berm was built around the
park, to shield it from the intrusions of the outside world. The original
design of the park included five "scenes" or magical lands to explore
- Scene One unfolds all around the guests through the
wonders of turn-of the-century Americana known as MAIN STREET, U.S.A...
American at a crossroads, where the gas lamp is being replaced by electric
lamps, and the horseless carriages are overtaking the horse-drawn carriages.
- Scene Two, based on the then-popular "True-Life
Adventure" films of the 1940's and '50's took guests into an exoctic
locale known as ADVENTURELAND, celebrating the remote jungles of Africa and
- Scene Three recreated the pioneering days of Davy
Crockett and the great American frontier - FRONTIERLAND. Walt was extremely
proud of, and enamored by those men and women of vision and courage to move
across the great central plains of America to help settle the west, he once
wrote, "Here you can return to frontier America, from the Revolutionary
War era to the final taming of the great Southwest; our adventures are designed
to gie you the feeling of having lived, even for a short while, during our
country's pioneer days." In the early days of Frontierland guests could
ride in a stage coach, or take a ride on pack mules just as those early
settlers might have done.
- Scene Four brought Walt's beloved animated characters to
life in a charming array of storybook based attractions in FANTASYLAND.
Stepping across the drawbridge and in to Sleeping Beauty Castle and the
castle's courtyard, guests are tranported into a charming world where elephants
can fly, Peter Pan flys once again to Neverland, the Mad Hatter hosts a
dizzying tea party and many other charming fairytales come to life.
- Scene Five was an opportunity for guests to imagine what
the future might hold as America was just beginning to experience the technical
marvels of the "Space Age" in TOMORROWLAND. As Walt said,
"Tomorrowland attractions have been designed to give you an opportunity to
participate in adventures that are a living blueprint of our future." (That
future, as imagined for opening day was then then-distant 1986... certainly a
lot has come and gone since then!)
Each land was designed to fully immerse the guests within
that particular theme. Movie-making tricks that had been around for decades
were employed to set the scenes and get the story moving. Architecture and
aesthetics were key. Attention to detail critical. All done to enhance the
show, and give the guests an incredible experience like none they'd ever
experienced before. As Walt Disney said, "I don't want the public to see
the world they live in while they're in Disneyland. I want them to feel they're
in another world."
Disneyland was Walt's proving ground - proving to the
world that he he DID know what he was doing and wasn't crazy as many in the
months leading up to Disneyland's construction and grand opening thought he
was... specifically for what he DID NOT want to include in his park's design...
carnival games, roller coasters, ferris wheels, a tunnel of love and on and on.
Rather Walt wanted a world filled with fantasy and wonder, a place that would
transport its' guests to our nation's rustic past, or blast them into the
future... a place built very much like a movie set that would immerse the
guests right into the action of the story playing out all around them. As many
of the bankers said in those days, dreams don't sell. But that July of 1955
certainly proved his scoffers wrong... so very wrong, that by the end of that
very first September more than a million people had flocked to see "Walt's
Folly." Disneyland had instantly become a smashing success. And it was
only about 10 short years later that Walt was dreaming up a way to build on the
success of his initial Magic Kingdom.
Walt saw very early on with Disneyland that when the time
came to do anything else, he would need to acquire more land. Walt and his
brother Roy had been only been able to purchase about 300 acres in then-rural
Anaheim, which was the projected heart of growth for a burgeoning Southern
California metroplex. He'd wished he'd been able to purchase more, but he
wasn't able to do it. As a result, very soon after the park opened many
entreprenuers popped up all around the perimeter of the park... motels,
restaurants and other ventures which all created a kind of an atmosphere that
Walt didn't want. His park was about escaping the rigors of the real world, and
yet it was all encroaching around him and his magical little park. When it came
time to purchase the land for the Florida project he was sure to cobble together
as many acres as he could - more than 27,000 - about 47 square miles - twice
the size of Manhattan, or about the size of the city of San Francisco.
The vast expanse of land in Florida provides for long
greenbelts, vast forest land hiding away various elements that visitors don't
need to see. But of course that vast expanse of land also translates into long
bus rides in between parks, resorts and other entertainment offerings. No so at
Disneyland. Disneyland is compact - everything is closer together - and if a
guest chooses to stay "on-property" in a Disneyland Resort hotel...
there is no need to ever step on a bus to get between park and resort. Everything
is in close proximity to each other, and just a few short moment's walk until
arrival at the next destination.
|The original DCA logo|
What began as a single park in 1955, DISNEYLAND, expanded
into a resort destination unto itself in 2001 with the opening of the second theme
park, DISNEY'S CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE (renamed in 2010 to Disney California
Adventure), as well as the DOWNTOWN DISNEY DISTRICT and the addition of the
GRAND CALIFORNIAN HOTEL & SPA - thereby creating THE DISNEYLAND RESORT
(DLR), which already included the DISNEYLAND HOTEL and DISNEY'S PARADISE PIER
|The new DCA logo|
One of the things that many, many Disneyland vets say
time and time again (myself included)... is that Disneyland truly is Walt's
Park. Disneyland was dreamt up, imagined and shepherded by the amazing genius
of the creative force behind so many of the great films and cinematic
achievements of the 20th century. Even today, 56 years after it first opened,
there is such a sense of Walt found throughout the park. Little details,
concepts and feelings aroused because you know that Walt himself had a hand in
the creation of this magical place - and could very often be found mingling
with guests to experience it, just as they were. His apartment above the Fire
Station on Main Street is a constant reminder that he slept in the park many
nights, and just loved being there. It was a place that he designed with (by
that time) his grandchildren in mind.
Walt Disney World is a wonderful place, and I adore being
there - but the vibe between the two resorts is just so very different.
Disneyland was shepherded by Walt himself, but by the time the plans and
blueprints for the Magic Kingdom were being created, Walt was already long gone
having died in December 1966. The Magic Kingdom was designed by committee, not
having that single creative guru as the final say-so on design, theming and the
like and very often it can be felt. There are certainly improvements to guest
traffic and flow that help on crowded days, but the real element that is
missing in Florida is the Walt element. Disneyland really does just seep Walt
all over, strange as that might sound.
So on this my beloved Disneyland's anniversary or birthday - I celebrate what the genius of Walt Disney left for the world to enjoy - his magical little park - Disneyland!
Happy Birthday Disneyland!